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California Criminal Defense Law Frequently Asked Questions

If you are facing criminal charges, it is normal to worry about the consequences, such as going to jail, keeping your job, seeing your children, and maintaining your quality of life. If you are being investigated, arrested or charged with a crime, you may have many questions about your rights, freedoms, and future. To help you, below are some frequently asked questions about California criminal defense:


In most cases, police officers need a warrant to make an arrest. However, California Vehicle Code 40300.5 and Penal Code Section 836 allow for an arrest without a warrant if an offense is committed in the presence of law enforcement, or if the police officer has probable cause to believe the person committed a felony regardless of whether it took place in the officer’s presence.

If law enforcement wants to ask you questions while you are in custody, they must first inform you of your Miranda rights. These rights include the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney, and the admonition that any statements you make will be used against you in court. If the police take you into custody and conduct an interrogation but fail to advise you of your Miranda rights, any statements you provide to the officers may be inadmissible as evidence against you in court.

After an arrest in California, you have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. You should exercise your right to remain silent by asserting your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and decline to answer any substantive questions until you can talk to your lawyer. Anything you say to law enforcement can be used against you, so it is generally in your best interest to seek legal counsel before providing any statements.

A misdemeanor in California is a crime for which the maximum sentence is up to one year in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000 or more. Examples of misdemeanors include prostitution charges, public intoxication, and petty theft. Felonies are more serious offenses and carry with them much stricter penalties, including up to life in prison, hefty fines, and a damaged reputation that can follow you around forever. Examples of felonies include murder, rape, and robbery.

The Three Strikes sentencing law in California was first implemented in 1994 and has been revised in 2012. It is designed to impose harsher sentences on repeat offenders of violent felonies. According to the current version of the law, individuals who have been convicted of a serious and violent felony and have two or more previous strikes can receive a sentence of 25 years to life. Additionally, even if a person has not yet accumulated three strikes, a second offense under this law can result in increased penalties.

An arraignment is typically the first court appearance after being charged with a crime. At this hearing, the accused is informed of the charges against them. While it is required for the defendant to be present at the arraignment, an attorney may appear in their place for a misdemeanor charge, unless it involves domestic violence or driving under the influence and the court has mandated their presence. It is important to seek the guidance of a criminal defense lawyer before the arraignment to prepare for the hearing and avoid any potential legal missteps.

Bail refers to the money that is deposited with the court to secure the release of a person who has been arrested. The purpose of bail is to ensure that the defendant will appear for future court hearings and proceedings. If the accused is unable to pay the full amount, a bail bond company can be used. In this case, the bail bonds person will post the bail, and the accused must pay a non-refundable premium of up to 10% of the bail amount.

The amount of bail varies depending on the county in California and the type of offense committed. Once a person has been booked, the jail sets the scheduled bail, which can be posted to secure release. However, before posting bail, it is recommended to consult with a criminal defense attorney, as the bail amount may change during the first court appearance. Judges may adjust the bail amount based on the severity of the crime, the defendant’s criminal history, and the potential risk to public safety. If the bail is set too high, a bail hearing can be requested, and the defendant’s attorney may argue to have the bail reduced or waived altogether. At the bail hearing, the judge considers the defendant’s ties to the community and the likelihood of their return to court, as well as the risk to public safety by releasing them on bail. Effective communication with an attorney is crucial during this process to increase the chances of a successful bail reduction or waiver.

Instead of posting bail, you may be able to obtain an O.R. release, also known as a release on your own recognizance. This means that you promise to appear in court for future proceedings. The decision to grant an O.R. release is made by a judge, who will consider factors such as your criminal history and the severity of the crime, and may set conditions for your release. You may be granted an O.R. release as long as it does not compromise public safety and you will attend future court hearings.

The penalties for a conviction depend on the specific crime, your criminal history, and the circumstances of your case. Misdemeanor offenses, such as certain traffic violations and shoplifting, may result in up to 364 days in county jail and fines up to $1,000. Felony offenses, such as murder and rape, carry much more severe penalties, including incarceration and large monetary fines. Some extremely serious felonies, such as capital murder, may even result in the death penalty.

If you have been arrested, charged with a crime, or are under criminal investigation in California, hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney is crucial. A criminal defense lawyer can represent you, speak to the police and prosecutors on your behalf, evaluate the evidence against you, develop a comprehensive defense strategy, and fight for the best outcome for your case.

Michael J. Scott is a California criminal defense attorney with over 47 years of legal experience, who cares about his clients and is dedicated to protecting their rights and freedoms. His law firm has successfully defended individuals facing misdemeanor and felony charges throughout the Central Coast in various types of cases, such as sex crimes, drug crimes, weapons crimes, homicide, theft crimes, DUI, assault, crimes against the public, kidnapping, property crimes, traffic offenses, domestic violence, juvenile crimes, federal crimes, white-collar crimes, expungements, and restraining orders.

Choosing the right criminal defense attorney is critical when facing the possibility of criminal charges. When selecting an attorney, look for someone with extensive experience handling cases like yours, a proven track record of successful results, and a dedication to ensuring that your life stays on track.

At the Law Offices of Michael J. Scott, we take pride in offering our clients aggressive, knowledgeable, and dedicated legal representation. Contact attorney Michael J. Scott at (805) 925-2717 today to explore your defense options.

Knowledgeable Criminal Defense Lawyer in Santa Maria, CA 

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